Why America is Stuck: Part Three

Getty Images, NPR UNITED STATES – JANUARY 12: Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., make their way to the House floor for President Obama’s State of the Union address, January 12, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

What if this is the turning point? What if this is the moment when we decide if Mitch McConnell and the currently sidelined Trump represent the way we want to be governed, or if Biden and Harris represent the way we want to be governed? 

Maybe the moment will not happen right now. Perhaps that moment is still ahead of us. But Americans need to think about how they see their government. 

Is it the job of the federal government to simply collect taxes, fight wars, conduct relations with foreign nations and manage international trade period. Is oiling the wheels of those who seem to keep the economy moving (and the money flowing into their pockets), and stopping attacks on the homeland what government should be about? 

Or is our government also important as a kind of social referee preventing abuse of citizens by big corporations, big pharma, for profit medicine, tiny germs, employers, wealth hoarders, those who reject science because it hurts their bottom line. If we want to have some referees then it affects the kinds of people we elect. 

What do you imagine our lives will be like if workers have no support from the federal government and no unions so that they can band together in numbers similar to corporate lobbyists? 

Would you want to work 40 or more hours a week for the rest of your life with perhaps a two-week vacation, and just maybe a few paid sick days? And I do mean for the rest of your life. If you wanted to retire you would be on your own. You would have to have your own plan. You could dabble in the market through an app like Stash or you could check out Robinhood. 

If you did not make enough in your minimum wage job to feed your family or even just yourself, and pay rents that are too high without any subsidy from the government, it would be up to you to improve your lot in life, take night classes, find an apprenticeship if you could. You would have to work 40 hours a week, take care of your family and take some classes and do it all again the next day and the next. 

Even in the event that you could keep up this pace, or put off getting married or having a family, which would be difficult with no birth control, you would still have to find a new job and work at that job every day year after year. Abstinence would become an important word if you had ambitions.

You could go into business, work on a business plan, find an investor and make a good marketing plan, or start from scratch in your kitchen, or your basement, or your garage, and/or online. You might get wealthy. You might fall into debt.

I’m not predicting this life for Boomers. We’re already retired. This is what life would be like for Millennials and GenXers, etc. if Republicans had their way. America would be a society of workers and work would never end. Social Security checks would be a thing of the past. TAP and Pell grants to help with tuition would be up to the states, or just unavailable.

Republicans are Capitalists, corporatists who think if you do not work every day of your long life (or your short life) you are a deadbeat. They despise programs funded by the federal government to benefit workers. They want private businesses to offer whatever safety net programs people might be willing to pay for. And private businesses need to make a profit, a big profit, so whatever you decide to buy will be expensive. 

What will the government do with our tax dollars. That has not been made clear. Some citizens have hoarded millions and billions and they will not be pitching in, so the government will not be able to afford any of the things we have come to expect like public schools, and health care plans. Republicans describe passing laws that allow for a more equal distribution of wealth with a ‘dirty’ word, “redistribution’ (which actually doesn’t sound so bad) — until they tell us that it is ‘gasp’ socialism.

We sold the world on an empathetic society, a society that backs up its citizens with safety net programs. Many foreign countries have offerings that have come to surpass ours. Now we want to change the way we define society. We want to ditch the safety net because, hypothetically, it makes people want to stop working. 

We want the whole idea of society and government to operate under new parameters. All these big ideas about health care and a living wage, and unemployment insurance came about because unions accepted these things instead of pay raises, say the Republicans. Then the unions forced nonmembers to pay dues because they also benefited from these fringe benefits. 

So Republicans have been passing something they call ‘right to work’ laws to make charging dues to nonmembers illegal. Of course, all this actually does is take away bargaining power from unions so they can no longer lobby on behalf of workers effectively. That way businesses can set wages and offer few or no benefits, and workers have no recourse. Unions also back Democrats and that multiplied the power of the party. Shafting unions helps Republicans get elected. At the same time it helps reduce the size of the federal government if they put education, health and welfare programs up for bids from private businesses. If no one wants to provide the service, too bad.

Republicans argue that when our government offers benefits we lose freedom. They should know because they made sure accepting benefits would be onerous. Would we be freer without food stamps? Isn’t it possible some of us would just be hungrier. Perhaps we do need to carefully consider what programs would offer the most help to workers who don’t make enough money to live. Set some priorities with climate and environmental concerns among them.

So, voters, it’s up to us to decide. What is our idea of a society and government? If Millennials and GenXers, etc. let Boomers know what they prefer, then Boomers might help make it so.  Do we want a social contract that agrees we should take care of each other, and that cooperation and caring will make America a stronger nation. Or will business, profits, consumerism, and hard work with nothing to look forward to, no end to working, no such thing as retirement (unless you happen to have a plan for investing that works and nothing happens to ruin that plan), offer the most people the greatest amount of freedom and consistently comfortable lives. If we limit federal government will private companies and foundations fill the gaps? What disadvantages might such a system have?

Those who work in Artificial Intelligence seem to be working towards a time when there will be fewer jobs for humans. And yet Republicans are telling us that we need to work constantly from graduation to death. Retirees don’t always want to give up working, but what if you didn’t have a choice? What if your back went out, or your partner died and left you alone to raise the children, or any of the many disasters that fragile flesh is heir to came into your life and there was no backup? Would we go back to extended families if we had them?

I would think that everyone would rather fight now for paid day care, and senior care, better health care, cheaper drugs, free community college or training past high school as Biden’s plan proposes than choose that rather minimalist and hopeless nonplan backed by the Republicans. We are stuck because Republicans cannot imagine a better future for our nation and our people and because with Joe Manchin voting with the Republicans the Senate is tied, even with the vote of the VP, Kamala Harris. 

I am saying that you probably do not want to put Trump back in the White House in 2024 and you probably do want to give us more Democratic Senators in 2022 if you are not a fan of a minimalist government, a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic, and an ‘illiberal democracy’ which is actually a dictatorship. Vote wisely because we are stuck with what the majority votes for.

Why America is Stuck: Part Two

Getty Archives 8.28.63

Most White Americans experienced cultural lessons in racism in our childhoods. Our schools were overwhelmingly white, as were our streets and our stores, even our television shows. No one had to tell us that Black folks were excluded into separate spaces. What we experienced in our every day lives taught us the lesson that we now must purge ourselves of, and we need to accept that we may have to suppress feelings that we learned through inadvertent brainwashing if they can’t be banished. 

Add to this the redlining which kept the races from mixing except for more affluent, better educated Black Americans. Add to this the segregation of our schools before and after busing (which, it seems, no one liked). The social equation created a desert in most of our inner cities, occupied by Black folks who had to find alternative pathways to success. Jazz, blues, rap offered ways to express anger at societal unfairness, to show talent and value, and to have a way to express the violence of the anger and the burden of the oppression safely. 

Gangs protect turf, business boundaries, and offer ‘ritual’ and ‘family ties’, while siphoning young people away from schools and setting them up for a cycle of arrests and releases. Perhaps the threats of violence further mark territory, but they also turn our inner cities into shopping deserts, and this whole insidious separation keeps pace with the message we learned from white-washed childhoods. Despite what Tim Scott had to say after Biden’s address to the joint Congress, we are having a hell of a time unraveling this mess.

Before the Civil War, I learned in the Franklin Douglass biography by David W. Blight that many abolitionists were also separatists. They wanted to end slavery but they did not want Black folks to stay in America. Even President Lincoln was convinced for a while that Black people would be happier if they resettled on the islands off the coasts of America, or even in South America, as independent nations with their own government. Of course, this was not about making Black people happier. Frederick Douglass was shocked at this view of abolition. When he advocated an end to slavery he meant for Black people to become free citizens of the US. For all the reasons just discussed, and more (such as the early end to Reconstruction after the assassination of Lincoln), this never actually happened. Legislation changed, white people didn’t.

Republicans will blame this all on the Democrats because the political parties switched in the era of MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. The people who saw themselves as Democrats, a party that once represented Southerners, now lived in the North; those who saw themselves as Republicans, no longer the party of abolition, now lived in the South. Republicans rather than Democrats came to back a segregated version of America and in their hearts they still do. They still do not think ‘races’ should mix, although race is not a truly accurate term for differences that are only skin deep.

Today Republicans try to hide racism behind a narrative about political parties. They aren’t bigoted, just power hungry they say, and are obviously willing to cheat to win. As one Black person after another dies at the hands of our police, it seems that racism is alive and well in America, a disease that corrupts us all and threatens to tear our nation apart. Or if it is simply about a party that is growing unpopular and wants to retain power anyway it can, the end result is the same. And Republicans are not being honest. This is not just about political parties. This is still about racism. It is obvious, stark and totally gross. White supremacy is not real – it’s a myth perpetrated by white people. How can we ever root out this prejudice once and for all?

Republicans have us stuck in so many ways, but this is one of the most pernicious and damaging policies of the Republican right wing in a Senate where the Republican/Democrat balance is too tight, making it difficult to get America unstuck, especially given a filibuster-proof sixty vote ceiling necessary for most legislation. Perhaps all the Republican’s small government passion and their depiction of poor people as deadbeats is meant to distract from their racism. Perhaps the drumbeat of the wealthy, who don’t want to waste one penny of the money they have hoarded and now consider theirs, on anyone below them in success and wealth, is really just presenting us with a new form of racism that is difficult to label as racism, because they keep claiming this is about power and because they include poor folk of any origin.

So, Republicans now have this idea to turn America white — European white. There is even a manifesto, rapidly repressed, supposedly signed by Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, which expressed this intent, which she now denies. No one believes her. How do Republicans expect to accomplish this all-white nation? There have been different suggestions. One goes back to the pre-Civil War plan to send Black Americans to colonize their own nation somewhere that is not on American soil. Well, where would that be? Anybody got an empty country hanging around. Another plan is to have white states and black states. What states would go which way? How would people be forced to comply? 

There is no way to achieve what Republicans want to achieve that bears any resemblance to the creed that animates the American nation. By not doing things like passing laws that help heal the racial divide, Republicans plan to keep America stuck until they can get their way. If they win on this issue of inclusion v. exclusion our democracy will indeed die a terrible and dishonorable death. And knowing all this, if we reelect Trump in 2024, or fill seats in Congress with Republicans we will be responsible for that death.

Why America is Stuck

. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Let’s talk about some of the issues that haunt America and our Democracy and parse who bears the responsibility for our inability to tackle these problems. First there is the issue of the will to tackle a problem. Next there is figuring out the best way to tackle the problem. Then there must be an estimate of the cost of taking on the problem. After that, if the government decides to weigh in, comes the formulation of a bill and its passage into law. Then there must be implementation of the law. Every one of these steps has become a point of contention in the current political climate. Just pick a problem, any problem.

Gun Control

If you watch the news you have seen the neat maps labeled with the mass shootings that occur within a fairly limited time frame. Each and every time Americans mourn, Americans vent, Americans want to know why, and Americans express their belief that changes in our policies around gun ownership could help resolve this problem.



It is as if random Americans are living a life in which the slightest conflict induces rage, and killing someone or lots of some ones is the only solution. We can see that some Americans are operating on a hair trigger emotionally but we have no way to identify which Americans are likely to ‘go off.’ Even when a parent tips off the police it is difficult for authorities to know which tips to take seriously, given that families are complicated. In the mix also we have people who have been radicalized or who came to America with a plan. We have people who believe they are performing some patriotic duty. We have people strung out on drugs.

But at the bottom of all this is the fact that these people have access to a gun, or guns. So, Americans keep wanting to see if having fewer guns around or more limited access to guns would make those who rage seek different ways to express their uncontrollable anger. 

But we are blocked from any attempt to limit gun ownership or access to guns by the way Republicans, with their alliance with the NRA, have chosen to interpret the Second Amendment. Did the founders give blanket permission for gun ownership to every American? America was a frontier nation when it was founded. We had just been through a revolution against England to become an independent nation. It is difficult to conceive of a household that didn’t need to own guns in that situation. But would they feel the same way if they could speak to America today? 

Did they simply mean that states could have militias that owned guns? Is the Oath Keepers, for example, the kind of militia our founders had in mind? They did seem to have the intention of offering citizens protection from foreign invasions or from authoritarians who wished to undermine our democracy/republic. 

Strangely present-day militias seem to be offering up their services on behalf of the most authoritarian person to ever become a sitting American president. Isn’t this troubling? Not to the Republican party. The Republican party has decided that they can speak for the founders; they can channel their thoughts. They believe that they know what our founders would say in the twenty-first century.

The Very Nature of Governance

Republicans dip back into the Constitution again, and in their self-appointed role as stand-ins for our founding fathers, they define the role of the Federal government. They say that our Federal government is too big, it is too controlling. They say our Federal government has usurped the rights of the states. They say our Federal government is inept and that huge amounts of money are spent on programs that achieve little or nothing. 

Republicans want the government to stay out of the people’s way and let states handle their problems their own way. They say they are the Originalists; that we should ignore laws passed since 1789 and go back to the way our documents were written. They formed The Federalist Society because they believe that the wrong founders won the arguments presented in the Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton and George Washington both favored a strong central government. Thomas Jefferson and his allies totally disagreed. Of course, all of Jefferson’s arguments were tainted by his beliefs about slavery and the superiority of the Southern economy. 

Republicans say that all our problems can be solved, and solved better, by private companies. If we look to privately-owned prisons which operate on a for-profit basis it is difficult to see any benefits that have accrued from the private sector in this regard. Clearly if we want supports for women who want to contribute to their family income and/or use their minds in challenging ways we have looked to organizations like Catholic Charities and other charitable organizations to provide these supports. And we are thankful for all the programs supported through charitable contributions. What these groups have not been able to do is keep providing a living wage to the workers they hire. Because people who provide services to women and families cannot pay premium salaries the value assigned to women is always less than that assigned to men.

During this all-encompassing covid pandemic we have kept children home and have schooled them remotely. Obviously children cannot stay home alone. In the case of a two-parent family where both parents work from home it may be possible to arrange schedules to allow both parents to continue working, but not easily. In the case of some two-parent families the parent who made the higher salary may have worked while the other parent dropped out to care for their children. 

Often it was the woman who dropped out of the labor force. In a health emergency day care centers closed. Single parents were in real trouble except for the relief supplied by the government. Do we want supports for families so both adults can work and single parents don’t have to stress about caring for their child/ren? Are these things America needs, things that would make our lives better? Is it likely that all these needs (and others) will be met by private entities and met without injecting personal ideologies that might run counter to parental preferences?

Republicans say no to a safety net, and it becomes difficult to even discuss these matter in Congress let alone plan programs to meet these needs, find funds to pay for solutions, and pass bills to establish safety net resources. Look at how many Red states still do not allow the Medicaid expansion for their citizens. Again the pandemic had people relocating to Red states who did not believe in halting their economies to stop an epidemic. People see this as choosing freedom over regulation. But in a state that offers you no health insurance, what will happen if you do catch the virus and get seriously ill or die; what will happen to your family. In a world headed towards a population of 9 billion people, the freedom to let an epidemic run wild sounds more like insanity.

The way in which Republicans, led by Trump, managed the pandemic most likely prolonged the economic damage to places that do in-person business such as restaurants, bars, health clubs, etc. People blame governors who shut things down for prolonging the economic damage when, clearly, it was the failure to adopt the measures that would have killed the virus in its tracks that did the damage. Republicans, in the name of preserving individual rights, trampled all over the well-being of Americans and the American economy. Blame our current half open-half closed states, how long this pandemic has lasted, on the Republican party and Trump.


Look in any corner of American culture and you will see the willful prints of the Republican party all over every decision we have made in recent years. They look backwards, ever backwards with seeming nostalgia about the American that once was. That older America has evolved, it has changed but Republicans insist they can bring it back. They can bring back the factories, keep fossil fuels, keep gas-fueled vehicles, keep the same old railroads, just hold America still like a photograph of the fifties, before seat belts, before integration, before the Southern border was any kind of issue at all. Back to pure capitalism, without regulation; back to a muscular economy without unions. 

We can’t go back there. That America is gone forever. But because of what Republicans have decided about America we can’t move forward either. I just want everyone to remember that our stasis as a nation is the fault of the Republican party; that all the energy Democrats have for forward movement is being thwarted by Republicans, and that they even wish to restore Donald Trump to the presidency. This would be a disaster.

We must all try to prevent Republicans from prevailing. Voting has never been more important and giving Democrats a larger majority in Congress is essential. Do not let anyone suppress your vote if you can help it, and find a way to circumvent their suppressions if you can. Republicans are the reason we can not solve America’s important issues. It will have dire consequences for our nation if Republicans regain power in 2022 and 2024.

AI, Humanoid Robots, the Singularity, or Curiosity Killed the Cat

Webtek Media

Even before the Jetson’s, Isaac Asimov gave us the Laws of Robotics in a short story called “Roundabout” published in 1942. The idea of creating machines with brains which could do work for us has been a dream of humans living in many different eras. But it was the stuff of fiction until now. And although we are closer to robots who think like humans than humans have ever been, although we now use Artificial Intelligence in many ways, we have not created the ‘singularity.’ There is currently a race to make the iconic robot, a thinking, feeling machine that can anticipate our needs and our moods, relieve us of tedious tasks, and take on the dangerous tasks that would kill or maim fragile humans.

Asimov’s Laws were written to protect humans from robots. We have always feared achieving humanoid robots even as we are heading pell mell towards producing them. Why do we keep going? If we understood that, we would have unlocked the mystery of what drives humans to do anything.

The very fact that Asimov wrote his laws reminds us that we also know the dual nature of our reality. Regardless of what we invent, create, or do to solve a problem, the solution will eventually reveal that it offers negatives as well as positives. Asimov wanted to look at what could go awry with robotics and protect against it. Clearly the more intelligent the creations, the more we endow them with the power to use human decision-making skills, make them capable of learning (and learning perhaps even beyond human intelligence), the more nervous we are that robots will no longer need humans and may harm us.

Asimov wrote:

First Law of Robotics

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law of Robotics

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

Third Law of Robotics

A robot  must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first and second law.

We have had some evil robots like Hal the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey and in some of Asimov’s books, like I, Robot. In fact Asimov wrote many books about robots. We have had robots we fell in love with like C-3PO and R2-D2, and BB-8. We had robots of war like the AT -AT walkers in Star Wars. 

Since robots obey their owners and people are both good and evil, robots in fiction represent both sides of our nature. Recent books with robots and AI’s seem to be deliberately presenting us with kinder, gentler robots, whose human-like personalities make them very appealing. Authors seem to want to persuade us that Asimov was wrong when he suggested that robots that are too human may turn on us. Asimov implied, after all why would they need us? His robots learn that humans are not worthy of respect. Modern authors picture robot-human interactions as far more emotional and positive. 

Martha Wells presents us with The Murderbot Diaries, where the main character is a robot designed to be a ‘murderbot’ who doesn’t like his role in life, finds a way to excise his governing controller and goes rogue — but in the most heroic and entertaining ways. Kazuo Ishiguro presents us, in Klara and the Sun, with the very tuned-in AI, Klara, who runs on solar energy and seems to ‘out-human’ the humans by taking such good care of the person she is purchased for. Modern sci-fi of the world-building variety mixes humans and robots indiscriminately. We even have the dark view of humans who exploit robots as in Blade Runner. Google (which runs on AI) can give you a list of books about robots.

We may be discussing whether or not we should advance artificial intelligence, how far we should go with it and if we will ever reach the ‘singularity,’ but all the while we are discussing AI we are already using it in so many spheres. We have manufacturing robots, self-driving cars, smart assistants, proactive healthcare management, disease mapping, automated financial investing, virtual travel booking agents, social media monitoring, inter-team chat tools, conversational marketing bots, natural language processing tools, Facebook newsfeed, Google search, book recommendations, an iRobot or a Roomba to vacuum or mop our floors, GPS, facial recognition, handwriting recognition, speech recognition, virtual reality, artificial creativity and if you google artificial intelligence there is even more. Some of these involve simple algorithms, some are more complex. 

Neal Stephenson, in his book Fall, or Dodge in Hell, suggests that the eventual outcome of finding the singularity is oblivion, or living forever but only as digital beings. Is he issuing a warning like Asimov’s laws, that experts say robotics has moved beyond, or is his warning, which is more informed by where robotics has gone and where computing has gone, a warning we should heed. We are close to having quantum computing that does not require subhuman conditions to function, allowing us to handle data with exponentially greater speed and complexity. What good things will come with quantum computing and what will we do that might bring harm to humans, animals or the planet? We don’t know, but it looks like we’ll find out, unless the climate changes wrought by human excesses knock us back into a more primitive age. Stop or go on, yes or no? I think we all know the answer.

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder – Book

Apple Books

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder is an authentic piece of journalism about Americans fed up with our social systems which consistently rob middle-class Americans of things they felt were part of the ‘social contract.’ In a land where our Declaration of Independence proclaims that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights (life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness), we assume that our government would not legislate against our rights. 

Although governing is complicated it seems clear to most of us ‘bottom dwellers’ that our laws have been skewed to advantage the wealthy. When the wealthy play with the stock market and the economy to tweak it so they can get wealthier it hurts those whose finances are least secure. We are taught that consumption is good. We are dazzled by credit card offers that allow us to live well. 

But when the rich go too far and we land in the Great Depression or the Great Recession people at the bottom, perhaps those very folks who believed the promise of credit as a road to comfort, fall off the economic scale. 

They lose a job, they age out of the job market, they can’t pay their mortgage, they can’t afford health insurance and a major health crisis hits, their long time employer goes bankrupt and they lose their pension, or they are a widowed housewife who now has to live on the abbreviated Social Security they get from their dead husband’s account.

These are the people who sell their homes or lose their homes, who refuse to be homeless, who can find employment but not unless they travel to where employers are hiring. They buy a van or an RV, new or used depending on how much they were able to salvage from their previous life. 

They outfit their RV, or van, or bus, or even just their car using lots of advice from those who have set out on this journey before them. They make places to bed down, they deal with how they will get electricity and water if they end up at a campsite with no amenities, they add solar panels hiding them if possible because they are not allowed to have them in some places where they camp, and they figure out what to do about showers and wastes. 

There are websites for this. On Reddit there is a thread called ‘vandwellers’. There are searchable maps on a site like FreeCampsites.net, Allstays.com. There is a Wallydocking app. There are websites for Workampers who are seeking jobs to pay for their expenses, to possibly save up for a more comfortable van experience.

Jessica Bruger is a journalist, a writer. When she decided to write about this population she had a hard time getting vandwellers to speak to her. The media had not been kind; they tended to eventually get around to using the word ‘homeless’ which is offensive to vandwellers. These nomads tell the author that they have nothing against the ‘homeless,’ they are just not at all homeless. They have a home; it just is not anchored in one place. 

Because the National Park Service allows campers only fourteen days on a site, vandwellers have to move frequently. You can work as a camp host, cleaning bathrooms and campsites, checking in campers, stay for an entire season, and get paid, but these jobs are being eliminated. 

Amazon hires workampers at Christmastime but these jobs are difficult for seniors as they involve walking for many miles on the concrete warehouse floors, bending and rising, and hefting a weighty scanner that keeps track of your every move. Workampers consider the challenges worth the rewards, although some do not make it in these physically taxing jobs. 

Bruder makes friends with a camper named Linda May and she finally outfits a van of her own, which she names Halen, and joins Linda at sites vandwellers frequent, such as Quartzite, Arizona (The Gathering Place) and the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. She gets to listen to and learn from many vandwellers when she actually lives the life. Swankie Wheels is one of her sources, Bob Wells who started the website CheapRVLiving.com, Silvianne the astrologer, someone called Ghost Dancer. 

One of her sources tells her, “[w]e’re facing the first ever reversal in retirement security in modern US history. Starting with the baby boomer, each successive generation is now doing worse than previous generations in terms of their ability to retire without seeing a drop in living standards…” (pg. 62) Another source says, “[b[y moving into vans and other vehicles people could become conscientious objectors to the system that had failed them. They could be reborn into lives of freedom and adventure.” (pg. 75)

Bruder writes, “[w]hile it’s human nature to put on a good face in turbulent times — and to present that face to strangers – something else was also appearing among the nomads. The truth as I see it is that most people struggle and remain upbeat simultaneously, through even the most soul-testing of challenges. This doesn’t mean they’re in denial. Rather it testifies to the remarkable ability of humankind to adapt, to seek meaning, and kinship when confronted with adversity. In other words the nomads I’d been interviewing for months were neither powerless victims nor carefree adventurers” (pp. 164-5)

Linda May is an especially interesting and aware vandweller. Beset by adversity she still has a grand plan to build an “Earthship” of dirt-packed tires and to get off the grid on her own land. As Nomadland ends she sets foot on the property she has saved for, searched for and purchased, and she is getting ready to build. She has made friends along the way who have promised to help. 

The author finds it hard to leave the vandwellers and return to her own life to write the book she has researched and she concludes in this way:

“The most widely accepted measure for calculating income inequality is a century old formula called the Gini coefficient. It’s a gold standard for economists around the globe, along with the World Bank, the CIA, and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. What it reveals is startling. Today the United States has the most unequal society of all developed nations. America’s level of inequality is comparable to that of Russia, China, Argentina, and the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.” (pg. 247)

Obviously, I also have had some trouble leaving the vandwellers behind as I continue to digest the details of life on the road and the philosophies that maintain those whose lives have become nomadic. I worry that this could happen to me, or indeed, anyone I know. I have a friend who chooses to be nomadic for a portion of the year, but he and his wife own two expensive properties. Not the same thing at all.

The fact that women are safe and able to pursue this lifestyle if it becomes necessary helps lift my spirits a bit but the thought of 10-hour shifts at an Amazon warehouse to keep me in groceries has the opposite effect. It’s as if we are playing a game where colorful ‘peebles’ are lined up on a shelf and as new ‘peebles’ are added at the front end of the shelf, identical looking ‘peebles’ are falling off the shelf at the other end. Are you ready for Nomadland? Check out more of what Jessica Bruder learned and do a bit of soul-searching.

Infrastructure Bill in Trouble

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A question being asked over and over is will any Republicans vote for Biden’s Infrastructure Bill? There are plenty of other questions. Will Biden tone down the bill in the hopes of making it bipartisan? What will Biden have to put in or get rid of to get Joe Manchin (D-WV) to vote for the Infrastructure Bill. 

Can we risk raising the deficit? Will this bill really jump start the economy? Will this bill offer Americans large numbers of good-paying jobs? Will corporations flee if we raise corporate taxes? Will we see inflation, or even out-of-control inflation? 

Do we take out all the clean energy sections of the bill because Republicans refuse to accept that climate change is real, that humans can affect climate, and that climate crises are on the way if we don’t mend our ways? 

Does racial inequality affect our economy? Does the lack of racial equality affect our national psyche and justify spending to achieve racial justice? Isn’t there just a plain old morality aspect to this initiative also? Democrats can see that racial inequality could be a fatal flaw that eventually ends our democracy. Why can’t Republicans?

It is disheartening to accept that Republicans and Democrats have opposite answers to all of these questions. Even the American people are not as divided on many sections of the Infrastructure Bill as our Senators and Representatives are. In polls most Americans like the Infrastructure Bill.

Democrats Have the Con

Technically Democrats may have the con but Republicans are still calling the shots. They are suddenly very concerned about the deficit, which Trump began exploding during his chaotic term in office. 

Republicans don’t think government should fix highways, or tackle racial justice or the needs of America’s children and parents in a culture where both parents work or where there are many single parents. They say that all of these things should be done by private businesses, although private business has never shown any serious interest in taking on these services, or has done it in ways that offer only low-paying jobs, that don’t encourage quality outcomes or provide a living wage. So, Republicans are intent on killing the Infrastructure Bill or limiting it to fixing highways, bridges, and roads. Getting the lead out of our cities is a bridge too far for the GOP.

Biden is constantly chided in the media for promising to be bipartisan and then finding ways to pass bills with only Democrat votes. Infrastructure is a bill that could be passed under the reconciliation process because it is a bill that affects the budget. But now Biden also has a Joe Manchin problem and the majority the Democrats have in the Senate is so thin that one person can ditch the entire bill. Biden can only be bipartisan by abandoning his mission.

Why We Should Say Yes to the Infrastructure Bill

I am no economic genius but I believe America needs this bill to pass right now. Without it Americans who have been hurt the most by the pandemic, Americans who have lost their jobs, whose jobs may not come back, will be set adrift, unable to afford mortgages or rent or child care or even a car to get the family to work and grocery stores and pharmacies and doctors.

The corporate world has done well during this recession. CEO pay rose and the stock market has made big gains. Only people who are already wealthy benefitted from gains like this. We are already losing our middle class. We are already becoming a nation of the very rich or the very poor, and the very rich say that it is poor people’s fault that they are poor. There are no actual studies that prove that poor folks are responsible for their own poverty but rich folks find it liberating to believe it.

Since the GOP and common sense tells us that there must be some ‘pay-fors’ to offset the costs of such a pricy bill, the only place we have to look to is taxes. Taxes will have to go up. The current tax structure favors corporations whose tax rate went from 35% to 21%, which I considered obscene at the time. We already had a large gap in wealth equality in America and we made it bigger. What sense does that make? The theory was that those at the top would spread the wealth and invest in America, but the stock market dictated that corporations would invest their windfall in their stockholders and their own infrastructure. Companies did not come rushing back to America either.

So in yesterday’s Washington Post, corporations, of course, came down against any raise in their tax rate. They don’t feel any responsibility to help pay for new, updated infrastructure or to prop up the consumer class. A bit short-sighted to neglect your customers in a capitalist system, wouldn’t you agree?

Wealthy people in the world, not just America, have become like those hoarders you see on TV, except they are hoarding money, stashing it in vaults, in offshore accounts, just to see it pile up and to glory in the fact that they own it. I don’t see what good this sequestered cash does for anyone. How many yachts can one person own? Will they ever hoard enough money or gold or gems to make them feel secure about their future wealth. What fun will it be to own all that cash if the world is falling apart around you? Gluttony for any commodity is a sin. Watching this hoarding is painful when clearly it would give more pleasure to a hoarder who did something world altering with their riches. Spend some of your cash to make America or the planet better and it will lift your spirits. It will hardly put a dent in your wealth if you are astute about it.

What’s in the Infrastructure Bill

According to npr.com, not all of the $2 trillion in the bill is accounted for, but here are the key numbers.

$115 billion to repair and rebuild bridges, highways, roads

$100 billion to expand high-speed broadband across the entire nation

$100 billion to upgrade and build new schools

$100 billion to expand and improve power lines and spur shifts to clean energy

That’s only $413 billion.

NPR tells us that there are also embedded plans to fund efforts to build out clean energy infrastructure

And to advance the US economy to compete with China

There are plans to improve “Human Infrastructure” to be introduced a bit later which include spending on education, childcare and other social programs.

$174 billion

Fund a Climate Conservation Corps for conservation projects, projects in environmental justice, to catalyze shift from gas to electric vehicles.

Rebates and tax incentives for car buyers to buy electric.

Pay for transition of thousands of transit and school buses from diesel to electric.

Incentives for state and local charging stations.

To speed up private investments in clean energy

Racial Justice

Replace all lead pipes.

$85 Million to expand and improve mass transit

$20 Billion to reconnect urban neighborhoods cut off, bulldozed, or blighted by highway development.

I realize these amounts do not add up to $2 Trillion.

How does Biden Intend to Pay for All This

Raise corporate taxes from Trump cut levels of 21% to 28% (they used to be 35%).

Raise global minimum tax for US multinational corporations (stop shifting profits to tax havens).

In Conclusion

American citizens should fight for this bill to pass. They should be in favor of keeping the bill intact. We should let the Democrats have the con instead of allowing Republicans to remain in control through opposition. How will we even know which party has the best ideas if we don’t try the Democrats’ way. There will not be a better time to find out than right now when we need stimulus the most. Many Americans never recovered from the Great Recession and then they got hit with the pandemic. Pass the bill, lift people back up into the middle class. They promise that they will become good little consumers, they will buy stuff once again, although they may be more careful consumers.

Too Rich to Pitch In

Forbes Billionaires 2021


Republicans refuse to raise taxes to pay for what is basically a jobs bill, a bill that fixes infrastructure and opens up jobs simultaneously, although they certainly realize that inequality became greater during the COVID19 pandemic. For many Americans this past year and a half has been the worst time they have ever lived through, even greater than the Great Recession. 

Setbacks in the economy have not hit everyone equally and you don’t have to be a Senator to know this. Millionaires and billionaires might have worried that the bottom might fall out of the economy in 2008, but their lifestyles didn’t suffer one bit, which is very clear if you like to peek at the limited glimpses of the houses of the rich and famous that you are allowed to see without a subscription in the email ads for Architectural Digest. And, as we can see from the quote that begins this article, the pandemic has actually been good for billionaires and most likely millionaires as well. 

But while I am being tempted to subscribe to Architectural Digest and also getting notices of the Forbes list in my mail, I am reading Nomadland by Jessica Bruder. These contrasts are not surprising. We already knew that many Americans were facing financial ruin as they lost jobs, could no longer pay mortgages, had to choose between rent and food, lost their cars, gave up their homes when they got too stressed out trying to stretch inadequate salaries or government aid. 

In Nomadland you hear from those who have chucked their old lives and decided to go on the road in RV’s or just their cars, or small campers and roam from one Walmart parking lot after another, one campsite after another, one low-paying temporary job after another. The ways in which Americans at the bottom of the income scale have had to shuffle their lives around is sobering.

Here an excerpt from the Forward of Nomadland:

“In Drayton, North Dakota, a former San Francisco cabdriver, sixty-seven, labors at the annual sugar beet harvest. He works from sunrise until after sunset in temperatures that dip below freezing, helping trucks that roll in from the fields disgorge multi-ton loads of beets. At night he sleeps in the van that has been his home ever since Uber squeezed him out of the taxi business and making the rent became impossible.

In Campbellsville, Kentucky, a sixty-six year-old ex-general contractor stows merchandise during the overnight shift in an Amazon warehouse, pushing a wheeled cart for miles along the concrete floor. It’s mind-numbing work and she struggles to scan each item accurately, hoping to avoid getting fired. In the morning she returns to her tiny trailer, moored at one of several mobile home parks that contract with Amazon to put up nomadic workers like her.”

“Wages and housing costs have diverged so dramatically that, for a growing number of Americans, the dream of middle-class life has gone from difficult to impossible. As I write this there are only a dozen counties and one metro area in America where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market value. You’d have to make at least $16.35 as hour – more than twice the federal minimum wage – to rent such an apartment without spending more than the recommended 30 percent of income on housing.”


Mitch McConnell and his faithful Republicans who follow like a pack of large loyal old dogs are aghast at the idea of raising taxes on corporations to help pay our way out of this pandemic economy. And small wonder, since the wealthy people he represents have done very well. Of course corporate taxes used to be much higher than they are now and not that long ago. Would we really be raising taxes or just restoring them slightly upwards so that the wealthy can pitch in? It looks like economic recovery may be strong. But it won’t benefit everyone.

Why would rich folks be proud to be citizens of a country where they had to ignore the places where the ‘pixels’ were disintegrating, where the nation was not so shiny and where life is a dire and desperate affair? Will this be something they will allow, having the third world exist right in the middle of plenty. That didn’t used to be America. Will their lives stay peachy as they create economic structures that sequester more and more of the world’s wealth into fewer and fewer pockets? Will none of the rot and ruin ever affect them in the places where they find to escape to? Will escape simply come to seem like exile? The pendulum only swings one way for just so long. At some point the pendulum swings the other way. 

I know I sound grim, but it takes a bit of drama to make a point these days. Senators are complaining that the Infrastructure and American Jobs bill costing 2.2 trillion is too expensive. Compare how spending 2 trillion feels to someone making $7.50 and hour and someone with 161 billion dollars. The billionaires can’t pitch in a little? They don’t want to lift up the entire nation to give them more consumers and a nicer country to live in? They are so focused on the deadbeats who will waste their dollars that they won’t help anyone? These wealthy folks won’t be able to live on their yachts forever, because they will burn too much carbon-producing fuel.

Senators also complain that most of the things the bill will provide stimulus for are not infrastructure items. They don’t seem to comprehend that child care helps women work and therefore helps the economy? They don’t think paying for in-home care in a nation booming with seniors will offer Americans good paying jobs and allow older people to stay in their homes? 

In their very narrow view, only things that require steel and concrete are infrastructure, and yet we have learned that steel and concrete, made the way we produce them now, are adding enormous amounts of excess carbon to the atmosphere, and fueling global warming. They don’t have to know this because they don’t believe in global warming or that excess carbon will kill the planet we live on. It is difficult to believe that people who can amass personal fortunes are this short-sighted. We are seeing signs that they are starting to come around on climate and they are changing the way they make things. So why would they object to helping out their country, which has been so good to them, after an unprecedented pandemic which could, if we are unable to find our way out economically, bring us to that apocalypse that seems so near these day? 

Billionaires, corporations, please tell Mitch McConnell to get his Senate pooches to pass the American Jobs Plan, and that you will be glad to pitch in by paying more taxes. The only thing Mitch listens to is money and you have almost all of it.


NY Bail Reform and Victoria Afet

From a Google Image Search – Yonkers Times

We have long been aware of the fact that US prisons hold more Black folks than White, at least in proportion to their representation in the nation’s population. It also became clear that many people were being held in jail for even rather minor offenses because they could not afford to pay bail. In fact judges could set unreasonable bail amounts in order to hold people in pretrial detention.

Citizens who are able to meet bail requirements tend to own homes and have incomes that qualify them as above the poverty level. Since many poor offenders, or alleged offenders, do not own a home or property, or have incomes that rise above the poverty level, setting bail has tended to unfairly disadvantage Black folks and poor folks. Some people spend months in jail before they are tried or sentenced. 

Without the Black Lives Matter movement we might not have seen the need for bail reform, but NYS has responded by attempting to right this particular inequality. Backlash from law enforcement groups was instant and fierce. The Bail Reform laws that passed in January of 2020 eliminated cash bail for almost all offenses except violent felonies. At a local level this meant that many repeat offenders kept being returned to the neighborhoods to reoffend. Most of these violations were minor, but disruptive to the community.

Officials were so upset about the Bail Reform laws and so vocal about it that by April, 2020 amendments had already passed the legislature. These amendments expanded the list of charges and situations to nonviolent felonies. This allowed judges to set money bail or even send people for pretrial detention. Bail is supposed to prevent people from being able to leave the area but with no property or job responsibilities it is believed that people will just refuse to appear in court when their presence is requested if they are not held. But because the courts are overwhelmed people can remain in pretrial custody for periods of time that might be longer than they would be held if sentenced in a timely fashion. This challenges the very notion of justice.

The April amendments also offered more options for non-monetary release such as mandated treatment or maintaining employment. These kinds of creative and positive reforms were what the Bail Reform law was aiming at. I’m not sure that local law enforcement spent much time discussing how the Bail Reform law could be used to address unequal justice. Mostly they just uttered a giant vociferous “no way.” 

A Case in Point

On March 172021 Syracuse police discovered the body of 93 year old Connie Tuori in her apartment in the Skyline Apartment building. An autopsy revealed that she had been dead since the end of February. Ms. Tuori had traveled the world but her travels had been curtailed by the pandemic, if not by her age. It was determined that she did not die of natural causes. 



After a request for public information in the matter a name popped up, a name of a 23-year-old homeless woman, Victoria Afet, with a record of many recent arrests. 


Afet seems to have been living in Connie Tuori’s apartment with the dead woman’s body still present.

I guess it is easy to see how this incident can be used by law enforcement to demonize the new Bail Reform Law. On local news the DA ponders aloud on why Afet, with all her recent offenses is still on the streets. However he was being somewhat disingenuous, because clearly the courts had the option of setting bail for at least one of her previous offenses. She has not been proven guilty and we have no idea what kind of evidence exists, but because the crime she may have committed is so serious I doubt that anyone will question that she should be held for bail. If she were released, because innocent until proven guilty, she ought to be under some kind of supervision. She had previously attacked a 74-year-old woman to take her purse in the same apartment complex. 


This is a test of Bail Reform that could prove fatal. Tweaking the law would be preferable to overturning the law. The question that must be asked is what happened to Victoria Afet that turned her into a homeless 23-year-old making her way by stealing and possibly killing local seniors, and other lesser crimes? Syracuse has been cited for stubborn segregation and poverty. What are we doing to turn things around in our city and throughout our state? We have problems with violence that are usually found only in much larger cities. Whole generations of Black Syracusans are unable to partake of the opportunities their nation supposedly offers. 

Bail Reform Laws alone will not fix this, but this attempt at change should not be abandoned. Of course, if Afet is proved guilty she should go to prison. However, we  also should look to Ms. Afet and figure out where our city went so wrong. Redlining was practiced in Syracuse preventing home ownership to many. Home ownership leads to generational wealth. The most successful Black district in the city was replaced by a highway project which displaced thriving home owners and divided the neighborhood by routing traffic over it, creating a dead zone under a lengthy overpass. Change is required in Syracuse and in America and the need is urgent. Bail reform is just a beginning and we should fine tune it until it functions as it should.

Immigration: A Complicated Dilemma

From a Google Image Search – AP News – Migrants repelled at border.

Immigration at the Southern border is a complex topic that raises many questions for citizens in the US. Do we have room for more people? Should we remain closed even after the virus is managed through herd immunity? Are we worried that allowing so many to enter the country from South America will change America as we know it enough to essentially make it feel like a different country? Will new arrivals be assimilated? Will they be so numerous that they take over our society and turn it into a carbon copy of their homeland? How big a burden will these new arrivals be on our safety net and for how long? Will they become working members of our society, or will they be have to be subsidized for decades? Will we become a Spanish speaking nation or a bilingual nation? Will they be Conservatives or Liberals?  

These are things we rarely discuss because they seem racist and inappropriate. Since these questions underlie all the emotional debates we have about immigration at the Southern border they create an enormous fog of unexplored worries, mostly hypothetical, with no extensive data to supply answers. The entire situation remains fraught with fear and the desire to just not deal with it, to wall it off and place an impenetrable barrier between “us” and “them.”

But our humanitarian side sees our neighbors as leaving the countries they love, where their roots lie, not to overrun us, but to escape strife and land that is suddenly infertile due to climate changes. What was once a fertile triangle has become almost a desert that no longer produces enough food to feed the nations it once provided for. Young people are also being forced to either join gangs or drug cartels, or face terror and even death. The powers of these cartels have sidelined the powers and assets of the governments of these nations. 

We recognize that, as parents, we might also choose to send our children to another place where they might be safe, have enough to eat, and have better opportunities if it became necessary. We also recognize that inviting people who are poor into our nation when it is already doing an inadequate job of dealing with our own poor might increase the violence we are seeing among our own younger people who are trapped in poverty and who will seek any way out, criminal or not. 

Perhaps we even feel some guilt for pumping chemicals into the atmosphere that have changed weather patterns enough to cause that drought in the Northern Triangle of Central America, and, given the demand for drugs in the US we have even contributed to the failure of governments in that same area. In Venezuela the failing economy seems to stem more from too much dependence on oil and gas to provide income in a market where prices have fallen. Whether we are driven by guilt or necessity to consider the plight that drives migration from parts of South America to the US, even in a pandemic, it is our problem to figure out, and if we are who we say we are, it is our dilemma to figure out how to deal with migration as humanely as possible. We can start by recognizing this as migration and not immigration.

President Biden has offered a tasty bribe to the President of Mexico to help stem the tide of migrants for a while, at least until we get COVID under control. He has exchanged doses of vaccine for cooperation, a deal that helps both sides. This is a temporary solution and it is unclear how effective it will be. Biden also plans to invest in the home nations that migrants are fleeing to correct some of the conditions that are causing the exodus. We must assume that there will still be migrations to the US from South America as we cannot hope to solve all of the problems among the nations losing citizens. 

We have this moment and perhaps not much of a moment to figure out the answers to all of our questions about immigration or migration, or whatever you choose to call the ‘en masse’ movements of people that we experience so regularly. Can we come up with a decision about whether migrants are welcome, which migrants are welcome, how many migrants are welcome, what kinds of structure will be put in place that will be adequate to manage the migrations that will most likely continue? Will it actually be possible to set the terms for future migrations or should we come up with ways to deal with the real numbers that we can see are actually on the way? What would such a system look like as it would have to be adjustable for periods of more and fewer migrants?

It would be informative to follow what happens to migrants who are turned back and what happens to those who are allowed to stay but then we might have to understand the suffering that people are trying to leave behind and deal with our own callous lack of concern for our neighbors. 

After the pandemic, I would like to see a kinder system that recognizes the pain people feel at making the decision to leave their home country and family to start over. People who have a plan for what they would like to do in the USA and some reasonable connection or resources for pursuing that plan might be allowed a visa that would allow them to stay in America and visit home as often as possible, in other words, move back and forth across a more porous border. Those who apply for asylum and plan to never return home, who would seek citizenship and make America their new home, could be sheltered by a family member or sponsor as they are now, or counselled to come up with a plan for how they would make a living in the US and perhaps be provided with some aid to make their plan possible. 

I don’t believe that we can continue to turn people away at our Southern border and still claim the humanitarian high ground globally. Immigration/migration is a very complex issue indeed, but even a complex issue is unraveled by taking one step and at a time and readjusting as necessary. Once the pandemic ends or herd immunity is reached what steps do we want to take? Right now that depends on the Democrats, but at the next election the approach could change drastically. Yanking policies right and left periodically will not make any of this any easier.

Policing Armed Citizens

From a Google Image Search – The Economist

Recently a 17 year old young man who had been dealing with a mental illness all his life finally committed “death by police.” He created a chaotic situation where he was living so that a 911 call dispatched the police. He owned an air gun that shoots pellets similar to BB’s. It was modeled on a Glock and looked like a real gun. The police were aware of the air gun he owned, but they still had to consider that the gun pointed at them might be real. This young man, failed by modern medicine and modern treatments for mental illness, finally died at the hands of local police with far too many shots fired, all the usual overreaction that we find happening over and over in these situations these days. This young man was not of African American descent but he still joins the ranks of young people killed by overreactions from police. 


Tamir Rice was not mentally ill as far as we know, he was only 11, and he was Black. He was reported by a neighbor as being in a park with a gun, except that the gun was a BB gun. He was killed without any questioning as soon as a policeman arrived on the scene. 

Here are, to me, a couple of excellent reasons why we need gun regulation laws. Of course I thought it was more than obvious when a young mentally ill man with a gun shot 20 very young children and several adults and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but these poor parents have never been respected as they should have been. When guns are everywhere it puts police and even some Americans, especially Black Americans, in a bad situation. Police officers are always either paranoid that a potential perpetrator has a gun, or they are able to claim that someone they wish to be rid of has a gun even though s/he doesn’t. Black people do not tend to pass muster even when they have a legal gun with a permit.

Putting aside even the horrific situation that happened in Boulder or in Atlanta, or any appearance of a determined shooter in a totally unexpected public place which is difficult to anticipate, just the proliferation of guns because of a decision to put a certain interpretation to what the founder’s meant in the Second Amendment to our Constitution, is bound to make law enforcers paranoid and fearful that policing could lead to death at any moment. And it is leading to death either for the police, the person who may or may not have broken a law, someone caught in an uncontrollable mental moment or all of the citizens embroiled in such a drama. 

Guns are not actually saving lives; they are costing lives. Perhaps what we need to do is sideline the Senate, which seems dominated by irrational and reactionary politicians who insist that America belongs to them and refuse to accept that we no longer live in the 1780’s. Against all odds, these stubborn legislators insist that nothing can even be said about regulating guns in America. They are like a human wall on this topic and that wall cannot be breached. It is a most frustrating thing, among a number of frustratingly inflexible issues, we are facing in American politics, and all are very good reasons to find ways to sideline the Senate or set term limits that get rid of arrogant old men elected for life.